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'They don't care about drivers': Metro Vancouver Uber, Lyft drivers plan to 'strike' on Valentine's Day

"One time I thought the customer was charged $44 but they told me they were charged $53 by Uber," said a driver.
A global protest "strike" is planned to show solidarity for Uber and Lyft drivers as well as other gig workers on Valentine's Day 2024.

Many Metro Vancouver Uber and Lyft drivers will not be on the road on Valentine's Day as they partake in an international day of protest. 

The Global Day of Strike against Transportation and Delivery Gig Corporations will take place in cities across Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Britain on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Demonstrators are calling on big companies, including ones that provide rideshares and food delivery services, to provide better wages and working conditions. 

Rideshare and delivery drivers in the Lower Mainland will gather at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) from 10 a.m. until noon. During this time, they will collectively deactivate their rideshare and food delivery apps and won't be available for people requesting rides. 

Toronto-based Ejaz Butt, who is the secretary of the International Alliance of App-Based Transport Workers, says Canadian drivers are asking for several important changes.

Instead of being contract or "gig" workers, Uber and Lyft drivers want "employee status with a union." Currently, a driver could be on a 12-hour shift but might only work for three hours — and they won't be paid for the remaining time. This means they could end up making well below the minimum wage, Butt tells V.I.A.

Drivers also say rideshare companies aren't transparent about what the customer pays for the trip.

"We want data shared with full transparency," he says. 

Guramar Sidhu has been a full-time Uber driver in Metro Vancouver for the past three years. He says drivers don't see the full amount the customer has to pay. 

"One time I thought the customer was charged $44 but they told me they were charged $53 by Uber," he tells V.I.A., adding that it wasn't the first time he'd been informed about a price discrepancy. 

Jant Takhar has also worked for over three years as a gig worker, driving for Uber, Lyft and food delivery apps. There is "no transparency" in the actual fare paid, he says.

"If I get a ride, they don't show up-front pricing. We have no idea where the passenger is going or how much we are going to get paid," he tells V.I.A., noting that drivers only receive around "40 to 50 per cent of the amount they see."

When fewer rides are available due to bad weather, special events and rush hour, customers will see a dramatic shift in pricing. But drivers don't always see this reflected in their payout, Takhar claims. 

Murky deactivation process for drivers

In November 2023, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that Uber and Lyft had "cheated drivers out of hundreds of millions of dollars," which resulted in two landmark settlements totalling $328 million. The investigation found that the "companies’ policies withheld hard-earned pay from drivers," as well as preventing them from receiving valuable benefits under the state's labour laws. 

Butt says the policies still favour the companies and shortchange drivers.

Drivers may have their accounts "deactivated" if they receive a customer complaint before there is an investigation into the issue. When this happens, they could lose hours or even days of work even if they aren't at fault. 

"99.99 per cent of the time they never ask the driver," Butt explains, adding that some customers try to get money back by complaining.

Vancouverite Kuljeet Singh has worked as a gig driver for over four years and says drivers aren't guaranteed to make B.C.'s minimum hourly wage and may still be blocked from working if a customer complains. Instead of communicating with a supervisor about an issue, the app will automatically deactivate their account.

"It is not a human telling you you did something is the algorithm or the app," he told V.I.A. "No police complaint. No investigation...there's no video, no discussion." 

After their account is blocked, drivers must appeal to Uber's support team, which often involves a call outside of the country for two or three hours. 

Gig drivers are also concerned about safety. Sidhu says he frequently has to transport customers who are "really intoxicated" and acting aggressively.

Uber weighs in on strike action

Gig work includes paid work outside of traditional employment, including app-based ride-hailing and food-delivery work. These workers can typically set their hours.

The B.C. government has identified several issues with gig work over the past couple of years, including low and unpredictable wages, being cut off from the job without warning, and a lack of workers’ compensation coverage if injured on the job.

Uber spokesperson Keerthana Rang says drivers choose Uber because of the "unparalleled flexibility" it affords them, including the freedom to use other apps while on shift and what trips to accept. 

Uber Canada also believes "drivers should earn a guaranteed minimum wage standard" and is working with UFCW Canada, Canada’s largest private sector union, to advocate for a minimum earnings standard equivalent to at least "120 per cent of the minimum wage during engaged time as part of our proposal to provincial governments across the country," she tells V.I.A.

"The Ontario government has passed legislation mandating a minimum earnings standard for gig workers during engaged time, which we will comply with when it is in force. And B.C.’s NDP government recently announced reforms that include a minimum earning standard during engaged time as well."

Uber believes account deactivations can be an important tool to ensure the safety of riders and drivers. In January 2022, Uber and UFCW Canada announced a historic national agreement to provide over 100,000 drivers and delivery people on the platform with representation if they face an account deactivation or other account dispute issues.

When asked if the job action will have an impact on drivers, Rang said that "these types of events have rarely had an impact on trips, prices, or driver availability," and the company doesn't expect a significant impact on Valentine's Day. 

"That’s because the vast majority of drivers are satisfied — earnings remain strong, and as of last quarter, drivers in Vancouver are making $36.03 during engaged time per hour before tips."

A Facebook group called BC(van) Uber/Lyft Drivers group with upwards of 1,000 members includes hundreds of drivers from across the Lower Mainland and many of them say they plan to join the protest. While some may only withdraw services for a couple of hours, others plan to shut down the app for a full 24-hour period.

"Tons of drivers are sending each other messages," Sidhu said. 

Lyft did not respond by V.I.A.'s deadline for comment on the story.